Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine makes a mockery of law

Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a video conference meeting to discuss agricultural issues including spring field operations in Moscow, Russia, May 18, 2023.

Vladimir Kara-Murza has prepared the following remarks for an upcoming appearance before a Moscow appeals court. In April, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison on treason charges – an accusation based entirely on his public statements about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.


Throughout this process – first in the Moscow City Court, now here in the Court of Appeal – a very strange feeling has never left me. Judicial procedures, by their nature, must be somehow connected with the law. But everything that has happened to me has nothing to do with the law; if anything, what I have witnessed is precisely the opposite.

The law – both Russian and international – prohibits the waging of aggressive war. But for more than 15 months, the man who calls himself the president of my country has been waging a brutal, unprovoked, aggressive war against a neighboring country: killing its citizens, bombing its cities, seizing its territories.

The law – both Russian and international – prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian targets. But during the 15 months of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded, and thousands of hospitals, schools and houses have been destroyed.

The law – both Russian and international – prohibits propaganda for war. But war propaganda is all I hear from morning to night on the television that plays in my prison cell.

Today in our country, it is not those who are waging this criminal war but those who oppose it who face judgment: Journalists who tell the truth. Artists who put up antiwar stickers. Priests who invoke the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Teachers who call a spade a spade. Parents whose children draw antiwar pictures. Lawmakers who allow themselves to doubt the appropriateness of children’s competitions when children are being killed in a neighboring country.

Or, as in my case, politicians who openly speak out against this war and against this regime. I received a sentence of 25 years for five public appearances. As the head of my guards in Moscow City Court sarcastically joked: “Impressive work.”

All this has happened before in our country. In 1968, participants in a demonstration on Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia were sentenced to camps and internal exile, and in 1980, [Andrei] Sakharov was exiled to the closed city of Gorky for speaking out against the war in Afghanistan.

But it was only a few years later that a Russian president [Boris Yeltsin], on a visit to Prague, condemned that occupation and laid flowers at the memorial to its victims, and the highest legislative body of our country declared that the war in Afghanistan deserved moral and political condemnation. The same will happen with the current war in Ukraine, and it will happen much sooner than it may seem to those who unleashed it. That is because, in addition to legal laws, there are laws of history, and no one has yet been able to cancel them.

And then the real criminals will be judged – including those whose arrest warrants have already been issued by the International Criminal Court. As you know, war crimes have no statute of limitations. I have some advice for all of those who organized my and other show trials against opponents of the war by trying to present opponents of the authorities as “traitors to the Motherland,” for all of those who are so nostalgic for the Soviet system: Remember how it ended. All systems based on lies and violence end the same way.